Most elderly people engage in only one type of physical activity, if any, a new study has shown.
This activity tends to be aerobic exercise, mostly walking which needs to be coupled with other exercise forms to enhance other fitness dimensions.
The study, featured in the May 2012 issue of The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (JSAMS), published by Sports Medicine Australia, looked at physical activity in older Australians aged over 65 years using the Exercise Recreation and Sport Survey, the only available surveillance system that collects information on types of leisure activity for a period of 12 months.
The study highlighted that an increase in participation in balance enhancing activities and muscle strengthening is needed to maximize health benefits.
Lead author of the study, Dr Merom Dafna from the University of Western Sydney, School of Science and Health and an Honorary Associate of the School of Public Health, University of Sydney, says that in order to maximize health gains in old age, there is a need to engage in a range of activities that improve not only cardiorespiratory fitness but also muscle strength, flexibility and balance.
“It is no surprise that Australia’s population is ageing. At age 65, Australian men and women are expected to live an additional 18 and 20 years respectively, and are facing the challenges of ageing successfully,” said Dr Merom.
“Participation in regular physical activity, and the types of physical activity undertaken may discriminate between adults who successfully age from those who do not,” said Dr Merom.
Results from the study showed that of those surveyed 32 per cent did not exercise at all in the past year, and 40 per cent participated in one type of activity. Of those 53 per cent engaged exclusively in walking. The top four prevalent sports for men and women combined after walking (45.6%) were bowls (9.9 per cent), aerobics/calisthenics (9.1 per cent), golf (7.7 per cent) and swimming (6.4 per cent). Gym work, cycling, tennis, dancing, fishing, tai chi, weight lifting and yoga were reported by less than 5 per cent of older adults.
“Walking may not provide optimal protection for prevalent adverse health conditions. For example, the most efficacious exercise programs for falls prevention were those that included high challenge balance training, for example tai chi,” said Dr Merom.
“Whilst those that only walked are one step ahead of those not participating in physical activity at all, to improve their health they should increase their participation in a wide range of activities that will improve balance, coordination and reaction time,” said Dr Merom.
Dr Merom says more research on what sorts of enjoyable physical activity preserve successful ageing is needed.
“Raising awareness on the types of activities that can most benefit the elderly, including those that achieve several fitness dimensions all at once, given that few older adults choose to participate in multiple activities is certainly warranted,” said Dr Merom.
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Media enquiries or for a full copy of the JSAMS article:
Amanda Boshier, National Media Manager, phone 03 9674 8703 or mobile 0412 224 729.
Merom Dafna is available for interviews.